Curation Makes the Difference: The Ken Burns App

Burns App
I admire Ken Burns for his storytelling and imagine him in my head a lot when it comes to digital storytelling. He transformed the way we think about still images with voice and music. But sitting through hours and hours worth of DVDs, even on subjects near to my heart like jazz and baseball, is something I just can’t do. (even though one of my neighbors is an editor with Burns and I feel guilt about not watching her work on a regular basis)

So I was intrigued when I saw the new Ken Burns App, and gave it a download. Here is what I was looking for: a curated collection of clips from various Ken Burns documentaries, culled and pulled together along various Big Ideas by Burns himself, with narrated introductions. I got all that, and more. The themes include art, politics, innovation and race, and while you only get one collection free (innovation), I ponied up the $9.99 for the rest because I just had to experience the Art collection (which mixes Billie Holiday with Frank Lloyd Wright with Woody Guthrie and more) and I am not regretting it. The experience is like a video mix tape, but with quality of storytelling and video production. I was hooked with the first segment.

The app is beautifully crafted, too, with a real feel for the way that touchscreens can be used to experience story. I suspect it will take me some time to get through all the collections, which is fine by me. I’m diving into the stories in order to learn more about America, and about filmmaking, and about digital curation. The Ken Burns App gives me plenty to chew on around all of those topics.

Peace (in the app),

Book Review: The Last Wild

For all the truth around “not judging a book by its cover,” I admit that sometimes it is the cover that attracts me to a book. So it is with Piers Torday’s The Last Wild. The cover was so intriguing, and the novels’ name, too, that I just had to pick it up when I saw it out at the NCTE convention. I’m glad I did, as my son and I just finished it as a read-aloud, and now we can only wait for the sequel to see how the story ends.

The book is set in a dystopian future, where animals have been killed off by disease (called “red eye” or “berry eye”) and all humans are now huddled around some city centers to avoid contamination. The protagonist, Kester, is a boy who has been stuck inside a children’s boarding “school” for six years, following his mother’s death and his father’s work as a scientist and vet. Kester is mute, unable to talk, but he narrates for us in a loud voice and soon discovers that he has the ability to “talk” silently with insects and, yes, animals.

Because not all the animals are dead, and they have come to break Kester out of his school (jail) so that he can lead the last wild (a group of animals) towards a cure for the disease that has ravaged the world. Torday’s book is full of adventure, and difficult choices, and a re-imagining of the world where man has done nature wrong, and now it is time to fix the problems, and save the animals. Quirky characters, and evil antagonists, abound here.

I’m glad the cover the caught my eye. We thoroughly enjoyed The Last Wild, and wait for the next book.

Peace (in the wild),

Re-Envisioning the Failed Digital Composition

All hail the fail. So said my friend Terry the other day as part of his response to my post about a digital composition that I attempted that just did not work for me. But part of failing can also perseverance (a theme which we did a whole lesson around in the classroom the other day) and as I took in Terry’s comments via Vialogues (see below) and then read some reactions from another friend, Molly, I began to rethink how the piece might yet come together.

Here’s Terry’s comments on the composition and some of my responses:

Here is Molly’s tweet:

It was a combination of both of their voices, plus my own doubts, that stuck with me, and as I was out shoveling last night (for the fifth time that day), it dawned on me how I could maybe “fix” the failure, and it required moving away from the video app that had inspired the composition to begin with. I realized that the PicPlayPost app was one of my problems. It was Molly’s comment about finding a way to cut and connect that made me realize that I could use Popcorn Maker, perhaps, to re-engineer the video sequences, and cut out the Tellegami ads at the end of the videos, too. (which Terry agreed gave the composition a very halting effect).

So, here it is.

What’s interesting is that my original intention was to try to avoid a sequential left-to-right kind of video message and that is what I went back to. But with Popcorn, I could add another layer of music, and the project is now remixable by anyone who wants to give it a whirl. That was something that Molly could not do with PicPlayPost, although that was her first instinct (which I applauded). Popcorn can still act quirky at times, and is periodically laggy. But, if not completely at ease with how it came out, at least it better matches my vision.

Peace (in the remix),

Graphic Novel Review: Jellaby

There is no way you could not fall in love with Jellaby. Not just the graphic novel of the same title, but the monster/creature/alien/thing that forms the heart of this new graphic novel series by Kean Soo (with a great introduction by Kazu Kibuishi).  Jellaby centers on a young girl, Portia, whose a bit lost and lonely in a new place and who discovers in the woods near her house an oversized, yet clearly young, creature that is also lost and lonely. She names the creature Jellaby, and Soo’s artistry really brings Jellaby to life with huge eyes, small wings and a large heart.

The story is a riff on the “Can I have this dog that followed me home – please please please?” idea but Soo has created a real believable world with Portia and Jellaby and then later, her new friend, Jason. The two kids are on a quest to find a portal back to Jellaby’s home, and the perfect cover for transporting a monster on a train is Halloween. This graphic novel — subtitled “The Lost Monster” — is the first part of a larger story of the three friends (and I’ve seen some of Soo’s work in the Flight collections so I know he has a flair for storytelling with heart).


You know what I appreciated?

At the end of the novel, Soo writes a bit about where the story comes from and explains some of the artistic elements. For example, the book is completely dipped in purples and pinks. As I was reading, I thought: that’s a pretty clever way to establish the mood of the story, and it does. Our visual senses see the world of Jellaby through the colors that Soo uses. I was thinking, how smart. But it turns out Soo used that colors because it was cheap, and he had figured that when/if the book ever got published, the publishers could easily turn the purple to black. But the publisher liked the purple and pink hues, and so it was kept. Interesting.

Peace (in the story),

Calm and Unity talk Community

The question to explore this week with the #rhizo14 course is the concept of “community as curriculum” and whatever that means. It brought up to my mind the continued tug and pull of what we mean by community when we refer to online spaces.
So, I created this tappable story exchange (which I shared out a bit yesterday, too):

And I was reminded of a presentation by Bud Hunt on the topic of community versus network spaces from the K12 Online Conference way back in 2008 (I think).

Listen to Bud: and find some of the related resources at either the K12 Online Space or at his blog space.

Peace (in the space),

Warts and All: This Digital Composition Failed

This past weekend, I had this concept in my head about trying to make a statement about how the technology we use hems us in as much as it broadens our possibilities. I could see the pieces unfolding, as a series of videos told in a combination of contained tech-generated pieces that slowly move into a video piece with just me speaking in my own voice.

It looked great in my head.

I went into Tellegami and used the text option to create the first videos. I wanted that computerized voice to speak the lines about constraints (although this is no reflection on Tellegami, which I enjoy). Then, as the third piece unfolded, I would add my real voice to the mix, ending on the fourth video without Tellegami.

It doesn’t look so great on the screen.

In fact, I almost killed the whole thing after I published it because the effect for me is a big “yawn.” Instead, I figured might be valuable to figure out why it didn’t work. I’m so used to only sharing the pieces that I like and the ones that came together, but just like in the classroom where there should be a “warts and all” reality around solid writing (it doesn’t appear magically), I figured it might make sense to think about where this digital piece went off the rails for me.

First of all, I admit: I winged the writing. Normally, I would have spent more time writing what I wanted to say. Oh, I knew the “Message” of the piece but I forgot a crucial element: the rhythm of words as a whole piece so that each part is like a stanza of the poem so that each piece works off the other in a rather organic way. I was sort of rushed for time and decided to forgo writing down the “script” and the playing with words, as I so often do. So, instead, with each segment, I was inventing the lines in my head on the spot and each time I recorded (I had to do each a few times), it came out a little different. The result is something less than cohesive to me, to my ear. It doesn’t sound right. The words are not complementary to the whole.

Second, while I do like Tellegami, I was struck by some of the automated voice limitations and by the limitations of what the character looks like (I know, this is ironic, given the theme of the piece). I struggled to keep perspective on how these limitations could help the message, but I never bought it on the creative side. This push/pull nature of creating with digital tools can make for the frustrating experience of “settling for the results” as opposed to making it work the way your creative mind wants it to work. This is the tension around agency.

Third, I didn’t realize until later (or rather, I forgot) that Tellegami adds a little Tellegami tag at the end of each video. That’s what you get with a free app. Normally, it’s not a big deal. But here, where the piece is built around a hand-off of ideas from one video segment to another, that delay for advertising is jolting. Any cohesion immediately gets lost as we wait around for the ad to finish. That drives me crazy.

Finally, I used my latest favorite app (PicPlayPost) to pull the videos together into one media collage but tinkering with settings and playing with the layout never got me to where I wanted to be. I can’t explain what I was aiming for, really, except to say that the way the video “looks” is not how I “saw” it in my head, and that disconnect with the vision of the piece is why the entire composition fails for me. (And the audio levels drive me nutty, too, even though I did some tweaking with it. That has to do with my iPad, which is an older version and has some microphone difficulties).

I’d love to know what you, the outside observer, think about the piece. Be critical. I can take it.


Peace (in the piece),

Fit for Life: Hip Hop Songwriting With a Purpose

HipHop Boyz

Our Student Council (I am one of the facilitators) is wrapping up a Fit for Gold challenge for our whole school, in which all students were encouraged to eat well and exercise as part of our celebration of the Winter Olympics. A few of the sixth grade boys on the Student Council wanted to write a hip hop song to celebrate the school-wide activity, and so over a few days, as I helped when needed but mostly watched them at work, these three students wrote and recorded their song, which is being played over the school-wide announcement system each morning and is featured at our school website.

The leader, who wrote most of the lyrics to Fit for Life and sings it, has flow!

For me, it was another opportunity to encourage community engagement, songwriting as a means for a message, and teaching some technology (Garageband) as well as finding an audience and outlet for students wanting to stay creative.

Peace (in the spotlight),

Slice of Life: A Picture of Nothing is Still Something

(This is for Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers but is inspired by #ds106’s Daily Create)
Nothing Much
Yesterday, over at the Daily Create (a must-follow, by the way), the prompt asked us to take a picture of nothing. So typical of the Daily Create, to ask us to be creative with the ordinary. But I took the prompt to heart, and turned on my iPad, pointed the lens straight up, and took a shot. Of nothing. Except it was something. Something neat. In fact, this little bit of nothing on the ceiling has some neat compositional aspects to it.

Notice how the support beam moves through the center of the shot, on a slight perpendicular path, and I was really struck by how the light in one room but not the other room completely gave the shot two sides to it (in a strange way that reminds me of Harvey Two-Face from Batman). The speckled paint on our ceilings also give the nothingness a sense of texture that a smooth ceiling would not have done.

So, yes, this nothing turned quickly into something. And here I am, writing about it, giving the nothing more life than it would have normally had. Thanks, Daily Create!

Peace (in the something),


#Nerdlution #Wordlution Checkin: A-O

I am still plugging away on my #nerdlution resolution to invent and publish a new word every day for 50 days. Right now, I am on the letter “O” and as with last week, I am using Animoto to share out screenshots of all of my words so far as a way to keep myself motivated and updated.

Peace (in the words),